House representatives discuss an amendment on the floor of the House on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

House representatives discuss an amendment on the floor of the House on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Capitol Live: Water, schools and vetoes

Live updates from the Capitol.

Meeting summary: A bill that would lay out a new way for designating Alaskan waters for the highest level of protection under the federal Clean Water Act was not popular with the people in the room at the Capitol in Juneau.

3:15 p.m.

Emily Anderson, Alaska Program Director for Wild Salmon Center, is now giving testimony.

Anderson said she appreciates the Legislature’s desire to step in and introduce a process, but she questions whether the process outlined in the bill is the correct one.

Tarr said one of the significant challenges of the issue is whether DEC can make an ONRW designation.

“I’m struggling with how I’m going to move forward with this,” Tarr said.

A call from Haines may be the last testimony heard today.

Jessica Plachta, executive director for Lynn Canal Conservation, is speaking in opposition to the bill and said LCC is concerned the bill would essentially allow the governor to veto ONRW designations.

3:05 p.m.

The meeting is scheduled to continue for another 10 minutes. The meeting will resume Friday, and that’s when the committee could vote to advance the bill out of committee.

Sarah Davidson is now giving testimony.

She said the bill “all but ensures there will never be a Tier 3” water designation in the state.

“The state is putting profit over public health and the safety of its own residents,” Davidson said.

3 p.m.

Doug Woodby of Juneau is now giving testimony.

“I have to say the reason the state’s management of renewable fish resources, the primary reason is because we started out with pristine conditions,” Woodby said. “We can’t afford to lose those conditions.”

He said he opposes the bill.

Dan Hotch of Chilkat Indian Village is also giving testimony.

He said people in the village are donating fish and moose to keep school lunch programs going in the village.

“I guess I’m asking for help in protecting our rivers and streams,” Dan Hotch said. “We cannot sustain that eternal village with polluted water.”

He said Klukwan means eternal village.

Dan Cannon of Juneau is now at the mic.

“We’re not talking cleaning fish or motor boats or even private septic systems,” Cannon said.

He said he doubts, if the bill became law, that he would be able to nominate an ONRW.

Cannon said the bill will create a “maze of bureaucracy.”

2:50 p.m.

Guy Archibald and Hotch so far have spoken against the bill.

They’ve turned over the discussion to off-site testimony in Homer.

He characterized the bill as “nothing more than the mining lobby” attempting to get carte blanche for how it treats waters.

A caller from Haines is now on the line.

“I stand in opposition to 138,” he said.

2:41 p.m.

About 15 minutes ago, Hannan referenced the possibility of getting to public comment.

However, representatives kept a stream of questions coming. At least one person left in the interim.

Public testimony is now open.

2:33 p.m.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, asked if the commission members would be subject to legislative review.

Kopp said no to emphasize it is a “professional advisory commission,” and to depoliticize the commission.

Rasmussen said if there was legislative approval, it would act as a check if governors and future Legislature’s were from opposite parties and would possibly make the advisory commission appointments less political.

Spohnholz about nomination process and how nominators would create a cost-benefit analysis.

She said it would seem to be a high bar for individuals or small tribes to clear.

“Have you considered having the commission be responsible for some of the more in-depth analysis?” Spohnholz said.

Kopp said the bill is about policy, not science and the required information may not be especially stringent.

“I don’t see it as being prohibitive at all,” Kopp said. “Once a packet is complete, I do see a commission working with the nominee to come up with additional information they may ask for.”

2:20 p.m.

Hannan how other states handle designating ONRWs.

Kopp said it’s a good question but something he hasn’t dug into.

Tuck asked if there’s any other entity that would represent local governments aside from the Alaska Municipal League in light of the proposed water advisory commission’s inclusion of a local government seat.

Hopkins asked how “resident” will be defined in the bill.

Fulton said it does not have to be an individual person. It could be a corporation or organization.

Hannan asked if a federally recognized tribe not incorporated in the state of Alaska could make a nomination.

“I would want any tribe that is part of our state to ahve that voice,” Kopp said.

Hannan said the bill should make it clear that a tribal citizens can nominate ONRWs.

2:12 p.m.

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, asked about the five water nominations and if the nominations have all come from Alaska Native tribal organizations.

A Kopp staffer said some of the applications have multiple nominators.

Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, asked how public comment would factor into the process.

Kopp said the process would include public comment.

Tuck asked if there are any ONRWs in Alaska.

Kopp said he’s not aware that Alaska has any.

Tuck asked if the Legislature could change an ONRW to a lower tier of protective designation.

Kopp staffer Trevor Fulton said that’s something Kopp’s office asked, and it seems the general consensus is if the Legislature puts something into statute, it can be removed from statute.

2 p.m.

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage , asked if a nomination could still go straight from a nominator to the Legislature.

Kopp said that’s correct.

Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks, asked if there might be some matters so pressing that the designation could simply be made by the water advisory commission.

Kopp said ONRW designations are so sweeping, the Legislature should be part of the process. He said the commission’s involvement could be a plus, too.

“I think this really depoliticizes the process,” Kopp said.

1:52 p.m.

The proposed water advisory commission would include commissioners from the departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Conservation and Fish and Game. It would also include a member of a “tribal entity or Native corporation,” an environmental or conservation non-governmental organization, a resource development NGO, and a local government.

Kopp said as outlined in the bill, whether something became an ONRW would be known within one year of nomination.

He said the process would be fair, evidence-based and ultimately subjected to legislative approval.

1:45 p.m.

So far five bodies of water have been nominated to be ONRWs since 2012, according to Kopp.

“Per DEC policy, nominations have been returned to the nominators with a letter referring them to the Legislature,” Kopp said.

He said Article 8, Sections 2 and 7 of the state constitution lays out the case for the Legislature designating ONRWs.

“The legislature may provide for the acquisition of sites, objects, and areas of natural beauty or of historic, cultural, recreational, or scientific value,” states Section Seven of the constitution. “It may reserve them from the public domain and provide for their administration and preservation for the use, enjoyment, and welfare of the people.”

1:40 p.m.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. John Lincoln, I-Kotzebue, gaveled the meeting to order.

He said public testimony is expected to be picked up on Friday.

Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, is explaining the purpose of HB 138 to start off the meeting.

1:32 p.m.

I’m sitting next to Jones Hotch Jr., tribal council vice president of the Chilkat Indian Village. He is present and will give testimony. He said he’ll attempt to condense his massage to just two minutes, and it will be a bit of a challenge. Hotch said if he had his druthers, the Chilkat River, which has previously been nominated, would be an ONRW.

1:26 p.m.

This meeting will likely get started in about 10 minutes. Representatives are taking a break between the floor session and this meeting.

Once this meeting starts, I’ll be taking over the Capitol Live blog.

-Ben Hohenstatt

1:22 p.m.

The House will stand at ease until 7 p.m. tonight. Tuck’s bill and the other bill under consideration for today have been delayed until the next meeting.

1:05 p.m.

The House Resourse Committee meeting is running behind schedule.

There are about a dozen people here to give testimony, but so far no lawmakers.

– Ben Hohenstatt

1:10 p.m.

The committee meeting will focus on House Bill 138. The bill would establish an advisory committee for reviewing nominations for reviewing nominations for Outstanding National Recourse Waters and clarify that ONRW designations are made by the Legislature.

ONRWs receive the highest level of protection under the federal Clean Water Act. The state currently has no formal process for designating ONRWs.

The bill has drawn opposition in part because some feel that requiring legislative action means it would be exceedingly difficult for a body of water to receive the ONRW designation.

1:15 p.m.

The meeting still hasn’t begun.

1:18 p.m.

Carpenter enters an amendment which would limit the amount of time before absentee ballots are stopped being sent from four years to two years.

Vote fails, 16-22.

House takes a brief at ease so that the 12th amendment can be copied for legislators to look at.

1:10 p.m.

Pruitt says moving municipal elections to the fall season creates synergy with the larger elections. The population has been trained that election day is in the fall and the bill would encourage people to vote.

Many opponents of the amendment have argued the state should not tell municipalities when to hold their elections.

Amendment 10 fails, 15-23.

1:06 p.m.

Eastman moves to add amendment 1, sponsored by Tuck and which would change the effective date of the bill from 2020 to 2021, to amendment 10.

Motion fails, 17-21.

1:03 p.m.

Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, enters an amendment which would move municipal elections to the first Tuesday of October or November. She says this is an effort to ease what she called “voter whiplash” or people becoming exasperated with the voting process.

The amendment would end spring votes and make all elections in the fall.

Tuck rises in opposition saying that placing municipal elections and state elections in the same season might create an overwhelming amount of information for voters. It’s not the state’s place to say when municipalities should hold their elections.

Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, says she had worked on the issue previously because spring elections tend to have low voter turnout. Many of the representatives who have spoken have referenced the municipality of Anchorage having votes in the spring.

12:54 p.m.

Eastman has a ninth amendment he has submitted. Most of his amendments have to do with getting the Division of Elections to stop sending absentee ballots to people who have not voted in past elections.

The amendment fails, 14-24.

12:51 p.m.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, tells that he is going to allow final comments on the eighth amendment submitted by Eastman but, he says, “if these amendments continue to trickle in,” he will not allow them to be heard.

The vote fails, 1-37.

12:40 p.m.

Eastman has yet another bill, number seven, there were two previous bills that were withdrawn both or which were either sponsored or co-sponsored by Eastman. The text of the amendment is not yet available to the public.

The vote fails, 17-21.

Eastman has an eighth amendment for consideration but it has not yet been printed. House takes an at ease until copies of the amendment can be passed out the legislators.

12:32 p.m.

Eastman says his amendment allows the Division of Elections to act on valid evidence that ballots are no longer being received.

The vote fails, 15-22

12:27 p.m.

Eastman has yet another amendment to introduce. This amendment would allow residents at an address to be able to provide evidence to the Division of Elections that the voter on the ballot no longer lives at the address.

This would allow residents to inform the DOE the ballots are not being received, Eastman says. Pruitt rises in support saying this amendment strengthen the bill.

12:15 p.m.

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, rises in support of the bill saying having voters request a ballot each year would save the state money in that the state won’t keep sending out ballots that may never get answered.

Several members have opposed the amendment saying by having voters reapply regularly would limit Alaskan’s ability to vote.

The amendment fails, 15-23.

12:08 p.m.

Eastman has introduced another amendment and the House has taken an at ease to discuss the third amendment. The amendment would stop sending absentee ballots to a voter if that voter fails to vote in an election or if the ballot is returned as undeliverable.

12:02 p.m.

Tuck says his bill would only be perpetual until a voter missed an election and then they would have to reapply. Re-application would additionally create more paperwork for the division of election.

Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, rises in opposition to the Eastman’s amendment saying that it might be confusing for voters if there are too many options on an application.

Eastman says his amendment would still allow for voters to request absentee ballots in perpetuity but would also allow for fewer options.

The amendment fails, 3-35.

11:45 a.m.

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, has a bill that would change the absentee ballot request options. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, objects on the grounds that the proposed legislation would make choosing absentee voting perpetual for that person.

Eastman suggests amending the bill to have the option to select which elections a voter wants to vote absentee in.

House takes a brief at ease to discuss the amendment.

11:36 a.m.

The House is having a floor session to consider two bills concerning voting, both have to do with absentee voting.

There are a number of students from around the state visiting the capitol today and it will take some time for them all to be introduced.

11:10 a.m.

Today at 1 p.m. the House Resources Committee will hear public testimony on a bill which would create an Alaska Outstanding Water Advisory Commission. The commission would review the nominations for state waters to receive the highest level of protection under the national Clean Water Act.

Critics of the bill have said it would take the public out of that process.

“House Bill 138 would cut science and the public out of the process and put the decision-making solely in the hands of politicians,” a statement from the United Tribes of Bristol Bay said.

Also at 1 p.m., the House Judiciary Committee will be hearing a bill that would reduce the amount of votes needed in the Legislature to override a governor’s vetoes. Alaska currently has the highest threshold for veto overrides of any state in the nation.

Lastly, also at 1 p.m., the Senate Education Committee will be hearing testimony on the state of public schools in Alaska.

Check back with us for updates from the Capitol.

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